Lisa Wagner is an Accredited Family Law Specialist on Sydney’s North Shore specialising in complex property matters and children’s work. Lisa is ITC’s legal expert on family law and in this article Lisa gives us some tips on what you need to consider when going through a separation. Take it away Lisa….
Whether you have been in a relationship with someone for two years or 20 years, going through the process of separation is generally difficult. You may have intertwined your lives in many different ways – for example, having the same circle of friends or sharing your finances together.
In the best case scenario, parties are able to amicably agree as to what should happen between themselves, but given our area of work, we also see many instances where it may get ugly.
Here are some practical considerations that you should think about when going through a separation.
Should I take all my “stuff” now?
In family law, personal items, furniture, furnishing and effects are generally not the big ticket items that we see people embroiled in conflict about. If you are leaving your personal possessions in the home, consider the behaviour of your ex (and gauge his or her level of reasonableness) as to whether or not this means that you might not get them back in the future. The safest option is to grab all of your personal possessions at the start – although, if you are also facing domestic and/or family violence – your personal safety is more important than your possessions.
What do I do with the bills?
Bills … life would be 10 times better without them but, of course, we all have them! Especially when a bill is in your name, the important thing to bear in mind here is that you do not want any disputes with your ex to affect your credit rating!
Consider the status quo. Who has been paying for what previously? Have you been looking after and paying for the mobile phone plans and internet while your ex has been paying for the utilities? Can that continue until you both otherwise come to an agreement in relation to a final settlement? If not, can you both agree to equitably contribute to the bills pending final settlement? Especially with mortgage repayments, for many people, the last thing either of them want is to default on the mortgage and for the bank to take steps to repossess the property.
What do I do with our joint credit card?
With credit cards, there is a common misconception that it is a “joint” credit card. Whilst there are a few institutions that allow joint account credit cards, what usually is the case is that there is a primary card holder and a secondary card holder.
If you are a primary card holder, consider the behaviour of your ex – does he or she have extravagant spending habits? What do they use the credit card for? If it is not for reasonable living expenses, consider cancelling the credit card to avoid a nasty surprise when your latest statement arrives.
What do I do if we have a business together?
Owning a business is a proud achievement for many people and they may derive joy and satisfaction from being their own boss. We see many people choose to work in the family business in their respective roles. But what do you do when that boss/business partner, who was also at one point your loving spouse, turns into the boss/business partner from hell?
Firstly, decide whether you wish to continue in the business. Are you able to put your differences aside and continue on in your respective roles? Chances are you might not want anything else to do with your ex! Keep in mind that the value of the business will also be included in the asset pool, and in the event that you and your ex are in dispute about the value, a business valuation may need to be undertaken.
If you have ordinarily received your salary from the business, and your ex-partner subsequently stops your salary from getting paid to you, get in touch with us urgently as your circumstances may warrant an Application for possible Spousal Maintenance and perhaps injunctive relief.
What if the car I am driving is in my ex’s name?
Whether an asset is registered in your name or not does not affect your entitlement to a property settlement. There are many people who purchase cars in one person’s name where someone else will have the primary use of the car. It makes no difference – all that may need to occur is that the registration of that asset gets transferred to you as part of an overall settlement.
What do I do with the family pet?
The thought of having to leave the family pet in a separation is unbearable for some people. For others, this might not be a concerning topic. In short, the Court treats pets and animals as property for the purposes of family law disputes. If you have an amicable relationship with your ex-partner, and you both cannot bear the thought of separating with your pet dog Biscuit, it may be possible to have a conversation and come to an arrangement whereby you both are spending some time with Biscuit, much like a quasi-child.
But what if you cannot agree? Around a year ago, we did an article providing a short review of some cases to explain how the court determines who retains the family pet. If you are interested in reading further on this topic, that article can be accessed here.
Should I tell my day-care/preschool/ school of my separation? Do they have any obligations? Can they prevent the other parent from picking up the children?
Yes, it is absolutely important for the day-care, preschool or school that your child attends to understand the current situation that your family is going through so that they can assist you appropriately.
Upon enrolling your child at any school, if there are any Parenting Plans or Court Orders in place, they will likely require a copy. Generally, school is not the appropriate place for a parent to spend significant amounts of time with his or her child. It is likely that your school will have a policy in place to deal with situations where, for example, one parent deliberately breaches Court Orders and attends the school seeking to pick up a child etc.
Generally, a school does not interfere with parenting and family law matters – and in the event a child is removed from the school in contravention of any Court Orders, the most a Principal may do is contact the other parent and call the Police if there are any confrontations. Check with your school as to what the policy is when it comes to situations like this.
What do I do for Child Support?
You have numerous options when it comes to Child Support – for example, having a private arrangement between the two of you (informally), an administrative assessment by the Child Support Agency or a Limited/Binding Child Support Agreement. Everyone’s circumstances are different and what works for your next-door neighbour may ultimately not work for you and your family. It is important to remember that each parent has an obligation to financially maintain his or her child. The last thing that anyone wants is for a child to go without due to family conflict.
At the end of the day, in family law matters, the end goal of a financial settlement is to sever the financial ties between you and your ex for all time. No going back for a second slice of the pie so to speak. In parenting matters, it is to ensure the best interests of your child are met and to foster a meaningful relationship with both parents if there are no risk factors present. Especially for parenting matters without any risk factors, the reality is that you and your ex are going to be in each other’s lives and you will need to co-parent until your child is at least 18 years old – which, for someone with very young children will be a very long time to be embroiled in parental conflict where parents have not yet established effective communication.
Lisa Wagner is an Accredited Family Law Specialist on Sydney’s North Shore specialising in complex property matters and children’s work.
If you would like to discuss your family law matter please call us on (02) 9437 0010 or visit us at https://www.familylawyersdw.com.au
This is advice of a general nature, this article does not constitute legal advice and is not meant to be complete or exhaustive.
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